(Peter) saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (verses 11-15)
It is difficult for us to appreciate what a cataclysmic shift this was for Peter.
The majority of us are not Jewish and so it will seem obvious that the Gospel is meant for all. We know well, and rejoice, that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). We know that “God our Saviour … wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). Though we marvel at the thought, we have no doubt of the reality.
But that was definitely not the case for Peter, nor for the church of his day. They lived under the cumulative weight of centuries of worldview that focused on completely different realities. They knew without a doubt that it was the people of Israel alone who were God’s specially chosen ones. Theirs were “the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises” (Romans 9:4). They knew they were called to avoid anything, or anyone, who was “unclean.” “Come out from them and be separate” was a principle engraved in their very being (2 Corinthians 6:17). They lived with the cautionary tales from their own history of times when Israelites had taken foreign wives and suffered the consequence. Theirs was a narrowly defined world.
Plus, Jesus himself had said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). That seemed to clinch it.
But then, Jesus had also said, “I have other sheep who are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also” (John 10:16). And his final charge to his followers was to “make disciples of all nations”(Matthew 28-:19). His followers were being stretched, even though they didn’t yet perceive it. But the stretching was completely in line with the strong Old Testament hints that Israel’s unique status was not merely for its own sake, but rather that “all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). This is what the Lord always had in mind.
But Peter, hungry on the rooftop, didn’t understand. So, he was in for a shock when that load of unclean animals was lowered right in front of him and the Lord’s clear voice said, “Kill and eat!” What? “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Three times Peter saw that same vision. Lest we miss it, the identical story is repeated again in the next chapter. The Lord wanted it to be abundantly clear.
Of course, it was never primarily about food. It was about people. Gentiles. Those the Lord loves. Those whom Peter and others had not considered eligible for salvation.
Thankfully, Peter got it! With hilarious freedom he declared the good news of Jesus to Cornelius and friends. They opened their hearts. They got saved. They received the Spirit.
The ministry of Jesus continued. To all.
Father, thank you that your intent has always been to extend good news to all. Thank you that it extends to me. Thank you that though not deserving in my own right, in Jesus you have made me clean.
Thank you that the glory of your kingdom is expressed in the diversity of ethnicities and cultures of this vastly diverse world. Thank you that your heart encompasses us all.
Reflect: When it comes to salvation, are there people you see as being outside the circle of possibility? Confess your narrow view. Thank the Lord that salvation is offered to them, too. Pray for them. Ask the Lord: What can I do?